For 24 of Makin Waves’ 32 years of existence, the Makin Waves Awards have honored the New Jersey independent acts who have released the best material and made the most waves with it. Here once again is my Christmas gift to the New Jersey music scene: the 24th annual Makin Waves Awards.
This year’s big winner is Matt O’Ree Band with three! Congrats to all the winners and Happy Holidays to all of you!
Band of the Year: The Happy Fits – This Hunterdon County-based indie-pop trio’s tidal wave went global with a trek to Europe in support of the summer LP, “Under the Shade of Green.” U.S. tour dates were non-stop throughout the year and a stream of videos promoting the album before and after its release was steady too. So much fun was had by all from this incredibly entertaining, down-to-earth band! Read more here!
Male Artist of the Year: Sean Tobin – After touring nationally in support of his third album, “Ghost of the Arcade,” this Asbury Park roots-rocker’s strong spirit was sought after for some of the top hometown gigs. One of the tastiest videos of the year also accompanied his impressive album’s haunting boardwalk-inspired title track. Read more here!
Female Artist of the Year: Katie Henry — Balancing on the sweet, folkie side of blues, this North Jersey songstress took advantage of her German indie label, Ruf Records, by touring Europe twice in support of her sophomore LP, “On My Way.” Totally living up to that title, Katie bookmarked the year by charting on the Billboard Blues Chart and recently appearing among Blues Rock Review’s Top 20 Albums of the Year. This marks her second Makin Waves Award, having won this same prize in 2019. Read more here!
Album of the Year: JT Bowen, “Dig Deep” — With the help of his good friend and producer ArlanFeiles, a celebrated Asbury Park-based singer-songwriter whose rootsy blend of folk ‘n’ soul has delighted audiences around the world, AP soul legend J.T. Bowen has made a delicious comeback album. On “Dig Deep,” he mines eight of Arlan’smost soul-searching songs and the results are soul-soaring. Read more here!
Best EP: Lowlight, “They Know” — This veteran Central Jersey outfit changed direction with new lead singer John Gleason of Roadside Graves, but kept right on keepin’ on with this strong outing on the seminal North Jersey indie Mint 400 Records. Even more atmospheric and a bit less rootsy thanbefore, the songwriting remains strong while the music sizzles. Read more here!
Song of the Year: Alexander Simone and WHODAT? Live Crew, “Even Now” — This absolutely stunning track about God’s mysterious love, which remains abundant even though we don’t deserve it, is one of the most soul-stirring tunes I’ve heard out of the Asbury Park music scene. “Even now God is with us” despite all our enraging, frustrating differences in the face of hopelessness. Another way to say “God with Us” is “Emmanuel,” and there’s no better time to say that than Christmas! Read more here!
Songwriter of the Year: The Vansaders — One of the most impressive albums of the year was yet another stellar one from the Johnny Clash-like rootsy punk outfit The Vansaders. All 10 new songson “Caught in the Light” are great, makin for one of the Asbury Park band’s best albums, and that’s saying a lot because they’ve released several doozies. Read more here!
Best New Artist: Hooper — This alt-country outfit would go great with Williams Honor, a very popular country act also from Asbury Park. Hooper’s two singles, “Dallas” and “Colorado,” are like Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers with more muscle. Ifyou haven’t seen them yet, do so on Jan. 14 for the Light of Day Festival at Langosta Lounge in Asbury and in their Jan. 28 debut at Albert Hall, the Grand Ole Opry of the Pine Barrens. Oh, and I love their logo of a Pony Express rider holding a surf board. Read more here!
Best Live Band: Dogs in a Pile — The latest national act to emerge from Asbury Park, Dogs in a Pile tour unceasingly to California and back and can sell out the Stone Pony any time they want. This makes two years in a row for these road dogs as the Makin Waves Best Live Band. I’m looking forward to their next album when they’ll be in the running for Band of the Year! Read more here!
Tsunami Award: Musicians on a Mission — This award goes every year to the folks who are makin the most waves behind the scene, and let me tell you from firsthand experience, Musicians on a Mission are just about the nicest group of folks with whom I’ve ever gotten to work. May they continue to raise funds for worthy causes while raising awareness about worthy local music! Read more here!
Best Vocalist: Eryn — Whether solo or as the co-lead singer of Matt O’Ree Band, Eryn’s powerful, sultry vocals make the souls of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Janis Joplin smile upon the space of wherever she sings. You can hear what I mean on her latest single, “Beautiful You,” and her hefty contribution to Matt O’ReeBand’s new LP, “Hand in Glove.” Read more here!
Best Guitarist: Matt O’Ree — Leader of the Matt O’Ree Band, this veteran six-string slinger, who, like Jimmy Law of Dogs in a Pile, started out as a wee lad in the Asbury scene, really outdid himself on his latest album, the aforementioned “Hand in Glove.” Fans of Led Zeppelin and Gov’t Mule will really dig the LP and Matt’s epic playing. Read more here!
Best Bassist: James Black, Jackson Pines — I’m like a kid at Christmas waiting for Jackson Pines’ next two records: an EP of mid-20th century Pine Barrens folk songs and fourth original LP since 2017. Meanwhile, I enjoy the roots-rock quartet live, as have a bunch of other folks, which recently led to a headlining spot at the fabled Stone Pony, but they’re just as good stripped-down at Albert Hall, and that’s because James Black’s acoustic standup bass-playing is as enthralling to watch as it is to hear. Read more here!
Best Drummer: John Hummel, Matt O’ReeBand/Anthony Krizan Band — With my own eyes, I’ve seen John save an important gig by subbing with only 24 hours’ notice, having never played the show’s music before. That’s because he’s a consummate musician’s musician who makes both incredibly busy touring bands he plays with, Matt O’Ree Band and Anthony Krizan Band, even better! Read more here!
Best Keyboardist: Billy Siegel, Cosmic Jerry Band — This sough-after cat of Whirling Dervishes infamy also gigs with Everlounge, Anthony Krizan Band, Dramarama, and Splintered Sunlight. I’ve known him since our college days when he was in The Bouncing Balls. I’m glad we’re both still rockin’! It’s an honor to give him this honor. Read more here!
Best Instrumentalist: Michael Squillace, Jake Tavill & Indigo Soul/Taylor Tote — Dude gigged in South Korea and Mexico landing him his third consecutive prize. Only artist to win a Makin Waves Award three times in row throughout its 24 years. On top of that travel schedule, Michael continues to raise thousands of dollars to help cancer patients with this annual Jammin’ for Jaclyn concert in memory of his sister. Read more here!
Producer of the Year: Joe Pomarico, Telegraph Hill Records — This loveable madman produced the two best songs of the year, Alexander Simone and WHODAT? Live Crew’s “Even Now” and Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son’s “We Go On.” Plus, every year, he produces the New Jersey music scene’s best local music festival: What a Wonderful Year, which will return Dec. 29 and 30 to the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park! Read more here!
Video of the Year: Rory D’Lasnow, “Power of My Love” — This poignant clip focuses on the power of a love between a father and son. Rory lost his Dad right around the same time I lost mine, so it really hit home like nothing else I saw this year. I’m sure many folks felt the same way when this road warrior traveled the country with his minstrel-like songs. Read more here!